Posts Tagged ‘isp’

Bad news: The IPv4 barrel is almost empty. Good news: The network will be relevant again.

December 6, 2010

“He who talks more is sooner exhausted” — Lao Tsu

Buying Internet access is a simple decision for most people in the developed world.

We take it for granted that we will be able to reach everyone, and everyone will be able to reach us, so the only things to consider are “how much bandwidth do I get?” and “how much does it cost?”.

However, if the Internet started to split into two logical networks, you would want a network provider that connected you to both parts. If you wanted to reach everybody, the quality of the Internet access, IPv4/IPv6 integration, and the quality of support you received would be key differentiating factors.

The ubiquity of everyday, humdrum Internet access has brought about fierce price wars and consolidation in the IP transit market over the last decade. Right now Internet access is a digital commodity, but the impending IPv6 shakeup will change that .

The physical Internet will be expected to accommodate a new logical layer for which few have invested. Meanwhile a new way of working is going to be imposed on people who are starting from a knowledge and operational skill level of zero.

The consequence of this disruption is that something that we have come to consider simply as a cost of doing business will once again have strategic relevance. Internet access that could previously be relied upon to be a ubiquitous commodity, will become differentiated by variation in performance, user experience and support. We will need to ask new questions: Can I reach everyone I need to? Can they reach me? What is the user experience like? Will this service even work?

With one year to go before even the RIR supply of IPs is exhausted, it is now inevitable that the Internet will fragment and develop a split brain. When the RIRs themselves run dry, and the trade in IPv4 space really gets going, prices will escalate rapidly. Eventually it stops being commercially viable to buy IPv4 address space in order to maintain network growth.

There is simply no way the entire IPv4 Internet will be running dual stack by the time we see IPv6-only users, content and services start sprouting up. It’s also inconceivable that there will be any large-scale protocol NAT that can deliver a decent user experience. So this means, regardless of how much IPv4 you have bought or hoarded, if you don’t migrate to dual stack anyway you can expect to be branded a legacy network by competitors.

As I explained previously, there will be a severe skills shortage in IPv6. Making sense of the technical transition and all the implications is exceedingly difficult; it involves taking a step back to get an objective overview of the Internet as a whole.

Disruptive effects can take various forms – market forces, technology and regulation. The beauty of this technical one is that we’ve known about it since forever. Everybody has had a chance to make sure they’ll not be left standing without a chair when the music stops.

So congratulations to those operators who have the nous to emerge as leading, capable providers in the confusing multi-protocol landscape that will emerge in the next 2-3 years. You just found your product differentiator again.